Reading the Fantastic Four comics from the start. Vol. 3 issue #26 pays off a lot of the Reed/Sue/Dr. Doom/Valeria foreshadowing that the series has spent a lot of time doing. But is this payoff worth it?
In the previous issue, Reed and Dr. Doom ventured into the sarcophagus of the Dreaming Celestial. After a lot of cosmic action, we’re told that only one of them survived. Then Dr. Doom, not Reed, crawled from the wreckage. He proclaims, “I am Dr. Doom!” Valeria (note this is teen Valeria who has time-traveled here from a dystopian future) runs to Doom, who in her timeline is her father. The FF accuse Doom of stabbing Reed in the back, but Doom swears he did nothing. Fellow Celestial Ashema wraps up the previous issue by saying that the chaos storm has passed and Earth is now back to normal.
Doom gets a message from his ship that someone is approaching, so he and he generals teleport back to his ship, taking the FF with them as prisoners. Remember that he has a huge spaceship he’s flying around in now, and that the Celestial had an underground complex in American Southwest. The approaching figures are the FF’s old pal Wyatt Wingfoot and his sister Wynona. Doom’s ship flies off. At Avengers mansion, the Avengers monitor the situation, announcing that Doom has returned to Earth.
Aboard his ship, Doom asks to be alone. Then we finally get the big reveal: This isn’t Dr. Doom, it’s Reed trapped in Doom’s armor! This was the final cruel act of the Dreaming Celestial before being defeated. The armor is sealed around Reed, so he cannot remove it or stretch out of it. He’s playing the part of Doom until he can figure a way out of the situation. Lancer, one of Doom’s generals, eavesdrops on him and then attacks, but Valeria stops her.
Elsewhere in the ship, the FF and Doom’s other three generals – Technarx, Dorma, Shak’ti, and Divinity. Dorma succeeds in decapitating Sue (!), only to reveal that this is all a hologram simulation for the generals’ training. The real FF are inside a cell inside the ship, wearing inhibitor collars that depowers them. Valeria and Lancer sneak in to free them, with Reed-as-Doom following them. Still impersonating Doom, Reed says he intends to send Valeria away to join Franklin, who was put on a record and sent off to safety two issues back. There’s a lengthy goodbye scene as Valeria says farewell to each of the FF. She hugs Reed, thinking he’s Doom, saying “You’ve always been, you’ll always remain… my father!”
Using the coordinates Sue has memorized, Valeria travels through a portal to join Franklin. Then Sue and Ben demand the truth from Reed/Doom. They’ve already figured out that “Doom” is Reed. Dorma and the other generals show up, and criticize Doom for freeing the FF. Doom tells Lancer and the FF to stand down, saying he will meet Dorma’s challenge alone. Using all the gadgets built into the armor, Reed manages to defeat the generals. He proclaims, “I am Doom!”
Dorma agrees to serve Doom once more, but Dorma insists that if “Doom” is to ally with the FF, then there must be a more tangible bond. Doom (Reed) agrees, and announces that Sue will become his new consort, and he proclaims her “the Baroness Von Doom!”
To be continued!
Unstable molecule: It’s stated over and over that Dr. Doom’s armor has so many defenses and failsafes that any attempt to get it off Reed will likely kill him. Reed’s reasons for not telling his family what’s happened are more ambiguous.
Fade out: Sue is quick to point out that Reed and Doom have switched places before. This is a reference to one of the classics, way way back in issue #10.
Clobberin’ time: The inhibitor collars don’t turn Ben back into a human. Instead they have his wrists bound to his neck, which I guess constricts his movements enough for him not to use his strength. I don’t know, they don’t really dwell on it.
Flame on: Johnny spends the issue wanting to fight, but never getting to. He references himself as the “hothead” of the team.
Our gal Val: Reed and Sue use the word “Heaven” to describe where Valeria has been sent to join Franklin. Their actual location will be revealed in the Fantastic 4th Voyage of Sinbad miniseries.
SUE-per spy: In the 2019 Invisible Woman miniseries, it’s revealed that Sue has been a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent all this time. This issue has Sue able to tell when someone else near her is invisible, even when she has the inhibitor collar on. Could this be spy training in use?
Commercial break: This looks like some action-packed gaming:
Trivia time: Doom’s fate was later revealed in the Doom miniseries, in which he ended up back in the Heroes Reborn universe again. Note that is a different from the Heroes Reborn: Doom miniseries, which took place just before this issue.
This is the first appearance (and first mention!) of Wyatt Wingfoot’s sister Wynona. She will be back in a few issues for her second and, it turns out, final appearance.
Fantastic or frightful? The big problem with this issue is a lack of geography. We jump from Celestial’s underground place to the desert to Doom’s ship, without any of these areas feeling like a place. The interior of Doom’s ship is big, cavernous rooms, leaving us with “empty room” syndrome. Other than that, the issue only exists to set up the new Reed-pretending-to-be-Doom status quo. This is a somewhat notorious era (era) for Fantastic Four, but it won’t last that long.
Next: Do you take this Latverian…
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